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A Republican challenger to veteran Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah is criticizing the incumbent’s role in a federally funded program for city schools.

Armond James will face Fattah in next month’s general election. He alleged the current financial crisis facing the School District of Philadelphia is related to the failure of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) program to monitor the use of federal funds, millions of which went to Philadelphia’s school district.

James released a critique of the GEAR UP program.

“A 2010 audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that over $138 million dollars of federal grant spending by the Philadelphia School District was either not allowed or unjustified,” James said. “This included federal GEAR UP grants championed by [Rep.] Chaka Fattah. A total of $341,693 in Federal GEAR UP funds spent by the Philadelphia school district was either spent in an unjustified or unsupported manner.

“GEAR UP is Congressman Fattah’s response to the underperformance of Philadelphia’s students,” James added. “Unfortunately, GEAR UP helps far too few students, and hundreds of thousands of the dollars intended to help students are misused or unaccounted for.”

Fattah did not immediately respond this week to a request for comment. He is the author of the legislation signed into law in October 1998.

GEAR UP is a “discretionary grant program” designed to increase the number of low–income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education.

It provides six–year grants to states and partnerships who supply services at high–poverty middle and high schools. Grantees serve students beginning no later than the seventh grade and follow them through high school. The funds also provide college scholarships to low-income students.

The Department of Education awarded $29.1 million to the city schools — $4.3 million each year for the next seven years — for its GEAR UP program.

“We know that GEAR UP works, and I am thrilled to see our local program continue to inspire our students to reach higher, graduate from high school and earn a college degree,” Fattah said last month. “This program is more than just an investment in our students, it’s an investment in the entire community.

“When our young people succeed in the classroom, the entire community succeeds.”

James, however, isn’t sold on those successes, and instead takes Fattah and the GEAR UP program to task for also not doing enough to reach more at–risk students.

“While Congressman Fattah continues to promote the GEAR UP program and the relatively few [by comparison] students the program helps, the overwhelming majority of Philadelphia students continue to be forced to attend failing schools with no viable option for a better education,” James said, adding Fattah’s program “ignores most of the students” in Philadelphia. “Philadelphia needs solutions and leadership that will address the widespread problem of underperforming students.

“Parents deserve the opportunity to send their children to a school that will adequately prepare them. For the majority who are not fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the few GEAR UP participants, there are no options.”

Source: The Philadelphia Tribune